Wednesday, June 25, 2008

God Whispers

I saw this phrase at a friend's house and it has stuck with me:

"Make time for quiet moments -- God whispers and the world is loud"

I haven't been very good at that lately. Even in the physically quiet times, it's hard to quiet the noise of things competing for my attention -- the endless mental to-do list that plays like an incessant news ticker in my brain........................................................................

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Grace & Encouragement

God must have a sense of humor.

Yesterday evening, I had yet another opportunity to be frustrated... and to work on my "un-gracefulness" problem! Since I had JUST written the Grace & Forgiveness post earlier that afternoon, I was very much aware of how I was reacting to things. I did a better job of "biting my tongue," but... lets just say there's still a heart issue here that needs some work!

This morning at church we had a celebration for the kids and the workers who participated in our soccer camp this week. Everyone got a little award certificate. The kids were excited! Then Pastor Nathan taught about "Shooting for the Goal" (with a lot of great tie-ins to what the kids were taught during the week).

One of the verses he used was Hebrews 12:1 - "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." Pastor Nathan said that he imagined the great cloud of witnesses to be kinda like a big stadium or arena packed full of fans. They're watching... but they're also cheering us on!

(As an aside... I never thought of the "cloud of witnesses" that way. I saw it more like a bunch of judges evaluating our performance here on earth. I kinda imagined them like "big brother" -- watching to make sure we don't mess up! It's neat to see that part of the passage in a more positive light.)

During soccer camp, there were a lot of folks on the sidelines cheering. People were just looking for excuses to praise the kids, and the kids would light up and smile every time. It made them want to work harder and get right back up when they fell down. At one point, one of the kids was trying to make a goal. He kicked the ball, and it hit a post on one side of the goal and bounced back to him. He kicked it again, it hit another post and bounced back. Then it happened a third time! But everyone was encouraging him to keep trying, and he kept his eyes on the goal.

That really hit me.

What if the soccer camp workers had reacted to a missed goal the same way I react sometimes to a missed order a restaurant?

More importantly... what could happen if I reacted to the waitress who missed my order with encouragement instead of criticism?

God really nailed me on that.

When I reserve my praise and encouragement only for those who make the goal, I'm missing an opportunity to help someone else turn a "loss" into a "win." So I'm going to try something this week: I'm going to make a conscious effort to find things to praise... even when it would be much easier to criticize.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Grace & forgiveness

I've been thinking about Matthew 18:21-35 this week. It's the story of a slave who was shown awesome mercy. His master forgave a huge debt that he owed... but then that same slave refused to show any mercy to a fellow slave who owed him much less. I'm beginning to realize just how easy it is for me to be like that unmerciful slave...

Life has been pretty busy lately. I moved here just in time to get involved in a couple of really interesting (but pretty intense) projects. Any time you start something new, there's a bit of a learning curve... and always a chance that you'll make a mistake while you're coming up to speed. I've made a few of those already! It's embarrassing! Thankfully, there's plenty of grace for that sort of thing here. It's a great place to be. There's a kind of security and safety here that I'm only beginning to understand.

So you might think that such an awesome, grace-and-mercy-filled atmosphere would have an impact on my attitude towards others. I wish I could say that it has! But the truth is, I've caught myself being completely un-graceful towards a lot of folks here. I've had no patience for waitresses who got my order wrong. I've snapped at some folks who didn't know the "right" answer at the "right" time. Little things -- stuff that is insignificant compared to some of the mistakes I've made -- still have a way of getting under my skin and generating a reaction within me that is out of proportion to the offense... and the exact opposite of the grace/mercy that I have personally received from God and from others.

It's not like I set out to be that way... I'm not out there looking for opportunities to *not* show grace to others. Many times, I'm not even aware that I've done it until after the fact. That's frustrating!

Things didn't turn out so well for the unmerciful slave in Matthew 18. When his master found out what he had done, he threw him in jail to be tortured. Verse 35 kinda bothers me: "My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

I tend to think of forgiveness as applying to the really big things. But I guess forgiveness would apply in any situation where you've been wronged, no matter how small. If I truly forgave the incompetent folks at the drive through who never get my order right... well, I suppose I wouldn't feel quite so passionate about calling them incompetent! And the truth is, regardless of how competent or incompetent they are, God still loves them. Jesus died for them. When I react to them in a way that doesn't honor God, what message does that send? What will they think if they visit my church or see me during a water outreach wearing my church tee shirt?